No deep truths about my grandpa this week; just an errand that I think he would have enjoyed, even if it made him shake his head in disbelief.
Time Inc. will probably show up with some frequency in the remaining installments of Hope Street.
As mentioned last week, one of the new documents my folks unearthed is a journal in which my grandpa jotted down technical and scientific tidbits — mostly related to his job with Henry Luce’s magazine colossus.
This week we focus on a nugget that was almost certainly fed him by the company PR department. I do not think he figured it out himself — not because he wasn’t capable, but because he didn’t show his work, and he was a thorough sort.
America’s weekly photo magazine was either on its way up when my grandpa wrote this undated entry, or on its way down.
The former is more likely. If Wiki is to be believed, Life’s circulation at one point soared as high as 13.5 million copies per week, and it was still printing 8.5 million copies a week as late as 1971 — the year before the classic version of the magazine ended its print run.
Measuring this week’s print run of Life, of course, is no more possible than measuring this week’s Nielsen rating for The Ed Sullivan Show. After being rebooted as a monthly magazine and a newspaper insert, the once-omnipresent rectangular red nameplate is no more.
(The Life name might still be used for those cheesy commemorative/”collectible” issues you see at grocery checkout counters. I don’t look closely at those so I don’t know for sure.)
Anyway, I decided to adapt this note to the year 2015, using a surviving stallion from the Time Inc. stable, and solve the kind of riddle my grandpa would have enjoyed turning his pencil to:
If all the issues of this week’s printing of Time magazine were piled one on top of another, how high would the pile reach?
Various sources, including Wiki, put Time’s 2014 paid circulation at roughly 3.29 million. I’ll round that up to a nice neat 3.3 million to make the math easier. (Time is, Wiki says, the nation’s second-most widely circulated weekly magazine, trailing only People.)
I will also assume “paid circulation” is acceptably equal to one week’s print run. Scholars of the print biz — and I know there is at least one in the crowd — can correct me if that is wrong, and I’ll redo the math.
The difficult part of the equation is measuring the height of a typical issue of Time: Like a $2 chicken dinner, it doesn’t stack up like it used to. My father suggested a micrometer might be needed to do the trick.
He stopped subscribing a few years ago. But in the name of science, he brought a ruler to his local library on my behalf and — while using his quiet voice, I’m sure — measured the height of the July 27 issue:
One-sixteenth of an inch.
So, then. 3.3 million copies multiplied by .0625 (that’s one-sixteenth) would make a stack 206,250 inches tall.
Divide that by 63,360 (the number of inches in a mile), and we find that one week’s stack of Times would measure slightly less than 3.26 miles high.
Not quite so impressive, is it? Hell, I can jog three-and-a-quarter miles. (Maybe not straight up.)
If you want to compare today’s Time with yesterday’s Life, that 22-mile stack of Lifes equaled 1,393,920 inches. If 7 million stacked issues of Life stretched 1,393,920 inches tall, then each issue stood roughly two-tenths of an inch high, back in the day.
(If your gut response to all this is to point out that an actual stack of millions of magazines would be shorter, because the weight and compression exerted on the issues would lead to measurable reduction in many of their heights, I will mail you a quarter, along with directions to the sense-of-humor shop.)
Unlike the Life days — when that 22-mile stack represented the magazine’s entire reach — today’s Time has an online presence as well. I’m sure there are well-paid industry consultants who can magic up a “formula” for how improbably high my Time-stack would be if I took online readers into account.
No matter. My grandpa would not be impressed by the state of today’s publishing industry. A stack three-and-a-quarter miles high might not even have impressed him enough to jot down in his notebook.